Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Because the second it hit, I was done for. Annihilated. Decimated. A crack of thunder that rang of paradise Otherworldly. Our connection unlike anything possible. This boy the other half of my soul And we were there together, shooting toward the stars where we soared.”
Do you read a book and your heart feels like it’s beating out of your chest as you progress through the story? Usually, I feel this during a particularly angsty romance, although rom-coms also provide moments where this can happen. In A.L. Jackson’s newest romance, Hold on to Hope, this was a constant state of being. From the start of the book until its end, I felt as though I had run a race. My heart pounded and my stomach dropped through this telling of best friends turned lovers. In the few books I’ve read of Jackson’s, this is her modus operandi, her craft. She has this ability to grab your soul and invest it within the pages of her story. Hold on to Hope is no different.
At its core, this romance is about soulmates. It’s about finding that person and holding on to them for as long as you can. It’s also about the temporality of life. That we need to live each day because we aren’t promised the next. Sometimes, when faced with serious, potentially fatal health issues, it can stunt a person’s understanding that life is meant to be lived each day, not placed on hold, and Jackson’s story challenges us in this fact.
Hold on to Hope follows the story of Evan and Frankie Leigh. We’ve met them in two other Jackson books, Show Me the Way and Follow Me Back. In those stories, Evan and Frankie Leigh are the children of the heroes/heroines. On first meeting, Evan and Frankie Leigh become fast friends. Not just friends, but best friends. There is a metaphysical connection that binds these two together. As they grow older, this connection morphs into feelings of deep love. Yet, Evan’s health complicates their future, and he makes a decision for them that changes its path. In doing so, it breaks a fundamental trust in their relationship. This potentially damages their future. Until it doesn’t. As the story progresses, Evan must fight for his love with Frankie Leigh. While doing this, the two of them must fight against a predatory outsider who threatens them and their future life together.
Hold on to Hope is a beautifully wrought tale of acceptance. Evan struggles with his health diagnoses and believes he is more hindrance than helpmate. He believes his life is better if he keeps himself away from the people who love him because his life seems temporary, at least to him. His mind is tunnel-visioned, and he deeply hurts his loved ones in his inability to accept that people want whatever time they can have with him. He’s short-sighted. When a surprise changes his life, he recognizes quickly that he needs his family and friends, specifically Frankie Leigh, in his life, and he returns to make amends. For me, it’s at this point that I fell in love with Evan. Honestly, I understood his decision to leave his family and Frankie Leigh, but it seemed more selfish than selfless, and it took me some time to accept him back. When he decides to pursue Frankie Leigh and make amends as a way to live his future with her, Jackson shows us his power and depth of love. Their chemistry is palpable. Each page of this story felt heavy with want and need. That is Jackson’s craftsmanship. That’s her strength.
As I felt the chemistry and love between Frankie Leigh and Evan, I questioned how Jackson creates this. I mean, it’s palpable. I found my heart pounding in worry that these two wouldn’t find their way back to each other. I felt tension and heat when they finally do reconcile, and I felt anxious during the final action of this story. And I pondered over Jackson’s ability to keep this level of erotic and story tension throughout her romance. It’s the rope that binds you to her story, honestly. She creates this through the phrasing of her words. She’s a master of the well-placed fragment and simple sentence, and that one-two combination builds the depth of her story in its words. Over and over again, my heart felt pummelled by her craft. I mean this in the best of ways because I want to feel deeply when I read a romance, not something transitory, but something immersive. Jackson does this flawlessly in Hold on to Hope.
Above it all, Frankie Leigh is the best combination of heroic qualities. She is tenacious when necessary, vulnerable as a way to connect our heart to hers, and she loves deeply and fervently. Honestly, there were times when I wanted her to turn her back on Evan as a way to protect her heart from him because she gave it to him so readily. In fact, there is an image that Jackson paints in the flashbacks of Frankie Leigh and Evan’s story that illustrate the depth and breadth of Frankie Leigh’s love for Evan. It’s so beautifully drawn on the page that it will make you cry. Frankie Leigh’s wildness and fervor for life along with her love for Evan and his life are, quite frankly, THE best part of Jackson’s Hold on to Hope.
If you want to know the heart of this book, it is the soul connection between Evan and Frankie Leigh, the Unicorn Girl and the Froggy boy. These two are chemically and spiritually connected to each other in ways that seem important. And their connection is the ultimate beauty of Hold on to Hope. I have yet to read all of A.L. Jackson’s booklist. It isn’t that I don’t love her. It’s simply that her books take little pieces of my soul. I invest my heart in her characters and their stories, and it requires time and patience to allow them to take little bits of me. Jackson is a master craftswoman in the art of the angsty romance. Her ability to pull at you, to show the power of deep abiding love, and to remind you of the need to live a life surrendered to its heart, make her an important storyteller in the world of romance. Hold on to Hope offers the best of all these qualities.
In love and romance,